November 19, 2009 08:00 ET

Book Review: "Perilous Place, Power Storms: Hurricane Protection in Coastal Louisiana"

NEW ORLEANS, LA--(Marketwire - November 19, 2009) -, a New Orleans-based non-profit formed after Hurricane Katrina with a mission of raising awareness about the nation's levee systems, released today its second in a series of book reviews by its founder Sandy Rosenthal that address the metro New Orleans flooding of August 2005.

Founder and executive director Sandy Rosenthal provides the following commentary on "Perilous Place, Power Storms: Hurricane Protection in Coastal Louisiana" (University of Mississippi Press, 2009).

The opinions expressed below are those of Ms. Rosenthal on behalf of

Craig E. Colton's new book presents a massive amount of important data on the man made vulnerability of coastal Louisiana. In meticulous detail, the LSU Geography professor explains how engineering mistakes, funding battles, and newly imposed law requirements resulted in an inadequate and incomplete flood protection system when Katrina arrived in August 2005.

But because the book may be referenced often in the years to come, it is important to point out some undocumented passages and unfounded conclusions pertaining to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the flood protection structures they built in metro New Orleans.

For example, on page 51, the author describes how in the 1970s, a federal court "forced the Corps to either abandon" its plan for barrier structures in New Orleans or do "additional environmental analysis." While it is true that in 1977, the court did prohibit the barriers until further study was done, there is no documentation that the court "forced" the Corps to abandon the barriers. This assertion is also completely refuted in the Katrina Consolidated Litigation Dismissal Order, Jan 2008, pages 6-12.

This distinction is important because when New Orleans flooded in 2005, environmentalists were frequently blamed without factual basis. In fact, in June 1980, the Corps elected against building the barrier structures and did so without reservations.

Similarly, on page 78, the author asserts that the Corps chose to raise the height of the London, Orleans and 17th Street canal floodwalls "despite misgivings." And, on page 127, the author draws a conclusion that the "overwhelming local preference for building higher canal walls led to their construction." Again no documentation is presented to support either the assertion or the conclusion, both of which are clearly refuted by Douglas Woolley and Leonard Shabman, Hurricane Protection Decision Chronology, Jun 2007, page 82.

This distinction is also critical because when the London and 17th Street canal floodwalls failed in 2005 resulting in the drowning deaths of over 600 people, the local New Orleans officials were frequently blamed, without factual basis. As put forth by Woolley and Shabman, the Corps looked at the relative costs and merits and found that the higher canal walls were more economical. The Corps chose to build the higher walls -- and to not build the gates -- and did so without reservations.

We do note that Professor Colten acknowledged in his introduction that the original version of this textbook was done under contract with the US Army Corps of Engineers history office. This gesture of transparency is commendable as accepting funding form the Corps of Engineers has an appearance of non-impartiality.

We also commend the author for neatly lancing a persistent myth about New Orleanians by pointing out that Louisiana had a significantly higher flood insurance subscription rate Pre Katrina than the national average.

Loaded with data, "Perilous Place, Powerful Storms" is a highly technical book that will likely be referenced often, but hopefully with caution regarding the undocumented unfounded conclusions noted.

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